"Glass Houses," Billy Joel's new release, takes a reverential bow to New Wave. Only three of the tracks on the album recall the pop-rock of his earlier recordings. Three other cuts parody the Beatles and Stones, and the remaining ones curtsy to New Wave.
Four New Wave cuts on a 10-track album may not be enough to support a rumor that Billy Joel has converted to the New-Wave legion, but it is enough to signal the influence of the new music on popular, established mainstream artists. Reminiscent of Rod Stewart's bow to disco in "Do You Think I'm Sexy" on his "Blondes Have More Fun" album, Joel's New Wave recordings prophetically signal the inevitable, unavoidable legitization of New Wave in commercial music circles.
The unadulterated presence of the new music on "Glass Houses" must aggravate New-Wave artists who persistently cultivate a subterranean, basement-band profile, New Wave wants to be illegitimate but thoroughbred, and hopes to remain an estoteric alternative to commercial recordings. New-Wave's disciples are impudent and vainly grotesque. Although nihilists, they are die-hard romanticists and their music is often sarcastic, sentimental and compulsively violent.
The Cretones debut album, "Thin Red Line," is typically New Wave despite producer Peter Bernstein's efforts to scrap some of the toxin that makes New Wave music so lethal in performance. The incessant chording, substantial on-the-beat drumming and thick drone of the Farfisa organ give the cuts a solid, stacatto rhythmic foundation. Without the relief of extended guitar riffs. The Cretones generate an untiring and violent assault.
Lyricist, lead guitarist and vocalist, Mark Goldenberg injects abrupt punctuations and transitions into raunchy, rhythmic melodies. His lyrics are free of metaphors, yet read like vernacular poetry and reflect New Wave petulance and sour romanticism. "Everybody's Mad at Katerine" is a satirical lament over the engagement of "the girl next door" to a U.S. Marine: "She's wearing an I.D. bracelet/It's all over, the guys can't take it/They're crying behind the American Legion Hall. /A heart beats fast at the end of an era."
New-Wave attitudes are so ingrained in the spirit of the music that adaptations by mainstream artists, such as Linda Ronstadt's "Mad Love" album, have difficulty converting New Wave into commercial styles.
Ronstadt discovered Goldenberg before The Cretones' album was released and adapted three songs on her recent album. Her versions of "Mad Love," "Justine," and "Cost of Love" to Goldensberg's versions on "Thin Red Line," do not compare to the tawdry passion of the originals, even when the vehicle is Ronstadt's effervescent sensuality.
New Wave is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sensual -- something Ronstadt seems not to realize. If New Wave is erotic in any way, it is sado-masochistic and masturbatory. Ronstadt cannot revive the spirit of New Wave's punctuated, obsessive hard core because he versions are too lyrical and melodic.
Billy Joel comes much closer to mimicking the rough-hewn New-Wave spunk, although this does not seem to be his real intention. Joel exploits New Wave's mesmerizing rhythm and the clipped, abrupt melodies to give "Sometimes A Fantasy"" a widely, dynamic energy. The band, however, plays behind his vocals and witty lyrics, pushing his elastic, volatile voice to the front. The strength of "You May Be Right" lies in the powerful but subdued backup to Joel's vocal lunacy and and absurd humor.
Joel also sidesteps New Wave's forlorn and indulgent romanticism, even in the spirited ballad "All for Leyna." A dormant hope and joy somehow rises from the energetic music, offsetting the despair in the lyrics. "You May Be Right" is another example of Joel's optimism: "So you said that only proves that I'm insane/But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for." o
Whether New Wave buffs like it or not, "Glass Houses" makes New Wave a legitimate phase in the evolution of mainstream rock 'n' roll. New Wave will no longer play only in subterranean rooms and whether it perfects itself or sifts into either commercial recordings or another "New" something, only one thing really matters -- and Billy Joel seems to be aware of it -- "Hot funk, cool punk, even it it's cold junk/It's still rock and roll to me."